I hadn’t dumped a canoe in years, so unexpectedly entering the water just above the John Day River’s Clarno rapids was quite a shock. I righted myself, pointed my feet downstream and tried to follow the course originally set for the canoe.
by Leon Pantenburg
The Central Oregon rapids last about three-quarters of a mile, and we’d managed to hit a rock cross-ways right at the head. My wife, Debbie, paddling in front, was also thrown out of the canoe. Her head bobbed above the rapids as she navigated the whitewater. Several minutes later, I pulled myself out in the slack waters of an eddy. From downriver, Debbie waved to show she was OK.
Picking my way over the rocks toward her, I did a mental inventory of my survival tools. Everything we had, all of our fishing, camping and survival gear, was headed downstream toward the Columbia River. It was a hot day, with no danger of hypothermia, and the other members of our float party were at the scene.
Neither of us was injured, and it was not a survival situation. But if we had been alone, here’s the survival tools we had left: I didn’t lose my hat, glasses or the GPS in my pocket.
But the Mora knife was gone from its sheath on my belt, and the butane lighter in my left front pants pocket had disappeared. A whistle was attached to my life jacket. I had charcloth in a plastic bag, firestarter and my key ring survival gear, except for the flashlight, still worked. Debbie had a whistle, too, but her survival gear was somewhere downstream. But even soaking wet, we could have started a fire to warm up and signal for help.
You could get dumped out of a canoe, thrown off a horse that runs away or be in a shopping mall or hotel when there is a power failure. In these cases, all you’ll have is a survival mindset and the tools in your pockets or on your person. But a little planning can help a lot if you make some basic survival tools part of your wardrobe.
This is what I carry on a daily basis: These items are on a separate key ring that clips to my car keys or belt loop.
On the keyring: LED flashlight, fingernail clippers, whistle, Boy Scout Hot Spark and Classic Swiss Army knife. The other, large Swiss Army knife rides in a pouch on my belt.
- LED flashlight: This is one of the most-used items. A flashlight could be what gets you out of a dark, fourth floor hotel room that is filling with smoke! It may also require leadership training before using. In any dark emergency situation, the person with the flashlight automatically becomes the leader! Make sure you get an LED light with an on-off switch. Otherwise, you’ll get really tired of pinching the light to make it work.
- Nail clipper: Until you have torn a finger or toenail on a camping trip, with no way to trim it, you can’t imagine how important a clipper is. In a pinch, it works as a tweezers to pull out splinters.
- Whistle: A necessary signaling device, since you can only yell until your voice gives out. A whistle can be heard at a great distance, with less energy expended than shouting for help. The universal signal for distress is a series of three, equally-spaced blasts.
- Magnesium or ferro rod: In this case, a Boy Scout Hot-Spark firestarter is the chosen tool. It can be used with cotton balls and petroleum jelly, or Chapstick, or Purell hand cleaner, to start a fire.
- Swiss Army Classic model knife: This knife’s capabilities are much bigger than its size! A classic has a knife blade, scissors, screwdriver blade, tweezers and toothpick. Most important, it can be carried with you at all times.In my left hip pocket:
- Bandanna or 100% cotton handkerchief: This item can do a hundred different tasks, including wiping your nose! Other common sense uses include shredding as tinder for the magnesium stick; signaling, and improvising a head covering or sun shade. I always carry at least one, and prefer to have several along.
In my right hip pocket is my wallet with the usual driver’s license, credit cards etc. These survival items are designed to fit in the credit card holders:
- Charcloth: If you can catch a spark, from any source, on a piece of charcloth, then you should know how to blow that spark into an ember, and then a fire. Charcloth should be carried in a waterproof plastic bag.
- Waxed firestarter: A credit card sized piece of this material, also carried in a waterproof plastic bag, will supply several minutes of flame when lighted with a match or some flame. The firestarter supplies that link between ignition and getting tinder and small sticks to burn.
- Signal mirror: I made this mirror out of a piece of flexible mirror material (available at most auto repair stores), and purposefully sized it to fit a credit card holder. In addition to signaling, the mirror can be invaluable for locating something in your eye or directing light into a hard-to-see area. The plastic covering on the mirror face is left on for protection. Directions for use are on the back.
In my left front pocket:
- Butane lighter: I don’t smoke but always carry a small lighter. It’s easy to “Flick your Bic” to light a fire, or make a signal at night, especially if you’re injured. (You can also use it to show your age at a concert!) Wrap it with a couple feet of duct tape, and you have added another survival tool.
- Chapstick: Get the kind with sun protection, and you can use it for lip, face, ear and skin protection. Chapstick works as a firestarter when combined correctly with a shredded cotton bandanna.In the right front pocket:
- Hand cleaner: Keeping your hands clean may keep you from getting sick later. Purell liquid handcleaner also works well as a firestarter with the shredded bandanna.
In my shirt or jacket pocket:
- Notebook and pen or pencil: You may need to write down map or GPS coordinates, phone numbers or leave directions and you’ll need something to write on. Don’t forget to leave a note telling someone where you went.
These items may help you get by in an emergency situation, but don’t rely entirely on them if possible. Always take your Ten Essentials on any outing, and know how to use them.
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